I was put on my first diet at the tender age of seven. I remember the fear and shame every week, when my mother dragged me to P.E.T.S. (Proper Eating Training Systems) in South Africa, and I had to climb up on the scale before total strangers to determine if I had been a good or bad girl.
Thus began the core belief of my worthiness being dictated by a piece of metal.
From that day on I was always supposed to be on a diet, so any deviance from “diet food” had to be eaten in secret.
Food became at once my best friend and my worst enemy.
My parents got divorced when I was 5; when Mom went out, I would hide the cottage cheese under the upside-down Gem squash in the trash, and make myself toast loaded with peanut butter, and steal cookies and nuts from the freezer—praying she wouldn’t notice. Her sweet friend, Esmin, who owned The Kandy Kabin in Johannesburg, once stored huge bags of almonds in our freezer; boy did she lose money on that! (Sorry Es. Thanks for not getting me in trouble.) On weekends, I was enamored with Dad’s overflowing candy cupboard and ever-present baked goods.
To avoid the disapproving looks of my parents and three older siblings (kind of like having five disapproving parents)—instead of eating one or two fresh-baked cookies, I would steal an entire package from the cupboard, and hide whatever I was too stuffed to finish under my bed.
I will never forget the day that my brother, Gary, told me that I was obese.
Left to Right: Gary, Sharon, Neville, Boetie, Orna.
I was always either on a diet, or breaking my diet—which meant eating everything in sight until the diet started again—usually on a Monday, January, end of the trip, etc.
I was horrified to see the shocking, all-time high of 91 kilos (200 pounds) that this binge-diet cycle inevitably caused.
Orna at 17 years old; at heaviest weight of 200 pounds.
This drove me to the stick-thin ‘dietician’ Colleen Sergay, in my college years, who told me what and how much to eat and I was guaranteed to get thin.
I would head straight to the supermarket to buy supplies for the post-weigh-in-celebration. I now marvel at the amount I was able to consume in one sitting; chips, chocolate bars, pastries, you name it. I would then eat myself into oblivion until I felt so sick I wished I could throw up—like some of my contemporaries were doing at the time; but the thought of that was always way too disgusting, so I had to suffer the food ending up on my derriere.
The unfair thing about weight issues is that you cannot hide it; everyone gets to see first-hand if you’ve gained or lost weight and how you’re managing your addiction.
Now that I’m in my forties, I’ve come to realize that everyone has something they are dealing with; whether it’s alcohol, drug, or exercise addiction; anxiety; health issues; relationship issues, etc. I’m also starting to realize that people don’t spend nearly as much time thinking or talking about how much weight we’ve lost or gained as we imagine they do!
Sadly, I never really appreciated the few times I did manage to get skinny (age 16 and then again at age 18)—because my head never got to catch up with my body.
Leaving South Africa
In 1993, a scholarship to the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston enabled me to pursue my dream of becoming “a singing star in America.”
Growing up, I had always been passed up for the slim, pretty girls—landing the character parts or a spot in the chorus.
Divorce Me Darling, University of the Witwatersrand, 1991
In Boston, a combination of being away from home and having to walk everywhere inspired my initial weight loss. But after moving to Los Angeles in 1995, the stresses of emigration; a break-up; braving the entertainment industry; and quitting smoking, sent me back to my old habits. Try as I might I could not get rid of the last 30 pounds.
On Feb. 28, 2001, in sheer desperation, I walked through the door of Weight Watchers. A record label was invited to my upcoming performance, and I was terrified they would see I was heavier than my flattering photo, and would not sign a “fat” jazz singer.
Luckily they saw past the pounds, and when they informed me that the photo shoot would be first, I got very serious about following the Points Program. Much to my delight, by the time I flew to Chicago for the shoot, the clothes they had picked out were a size too big!
Orna: The Very Thought of You was released on February 18, 2003, and for the very first time in my life it felt good to see my picture. What a feeling.
The Core Plan—Weight Watchers Power Foods/Simply Filling
After losing 30 pounds on the Points Program, I was struggling with the last 5 pounds.
This was exactly what I needed to break that plateau. I loved the flexibility, and stopped feeling deprived. Most importantly, I became very conscious of eating only when I was hungry and stopping when I was satisfied. This changed the way I looked at food for good. Instead of allowing someone else to tell me what and when I should and could eat, I learned to trust myself to know when I was hungry and what I was hungry for, and listen to my body for the signals.
Weight Watchers Leader & Ambassador/Life Coach
I became a Weight Watchers leader in 2002, hoping to inspire others to change their lives too. Sam still can’t believe I spent all those years earning a mere pittance; but I know that it was a crucial part of my journey and helped solidify my commitment to the plan. It was pretty cool leading “At Work” meetings at E! Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, CBS and The Writer’s Guild.
I learned that getting to that “magic number” doesn’t miraculously make everything in your life perfect. Weight Watchers gave me the tools to get through the difficult days, and the understanding that I am not a terrible person if I happen to lose control for a day (or two… or more); and that the scale is absolutely not a measure of my self worth.
Being a Weight Watchers leader taught me that I am a worthy person no matter what I weigh. Even if I gained a few pounds, my members still loved me and saw me for who I was as a person—not what I weighed, or what I ate.
I learned to treat myself with the same kindness and compassion that I would any of my members who was struggling.
I was honored to be chosen as a Weight Watchers Ambassador, and enjoyed being behind the scenes when the controversial Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York—the Weight Watchers Spokes person at the time—was the guest speaker in 2004.
Orna with the Duchess of York
Weight Watchers Convention, 2004
I continued to lead Private Weight Loss Groups and do Private Coaching by phone and in person after quitting my job at Weight Watchers in 2006.
As a Lifetime Member, I am still a huge advocate for Weight Watchers. It is truly not a diet, but is a way of life. They give you unconditional, loving support and teach you to be kind to yourself and change your habits one at a time. For me the biggest change—and what made it finally click—was to change my negative thought patterns and habits from the inside out. It is NOT just about counting points.
It’s about changing what you have always believed to be true, and truly believing that you can do it and that you are worthy and deserving.
Quite the Journey
I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs; the two years of hormonally-imbalanced infertility were extremely challenging—though happily I only gained about 35 pounds during the ultimate pregnancy with my darling Aja, who is now 3 1/2.
Kids and Food
I feel so sad when I see young kids with weight issues and have to hold myself back when I hear the parents make negative, ignorant comments to—or in front of—their obviously sensitive children. I think my own personal challenge will be to not transfer any of my own body and food issues onto my daughter. I know my mother was just trying her best with me, and must have felt very sad that I was heavy and wasn’t given a fair chance in life because of it.
There is so much more information these days about how to help over-weight kids. The two biggest no-no’s are:
- Putting them on diet, and
- Criticizing or shaming them about their weight.
The only way to teach your kids to eat healthy and lead an active lifestyle is by doing it with them.
This curly-top is now my main motivation; I try to involve her in every step—from the shopping to the cooking, baking, and even blogging!
Aja and Mommy making fresh pasta dough!
I also try not to say anything negative about my body (we only spell the word F-A-T in this house!), and I would certainly NEVER say anything negative about her gorgeous little figure.
And then there’s my Sammy
I am so very blessed to have a husband who totally gets me—flaws-and-all—and has given me a safe place to heal and grow. He has loved and nurtured me and watched me blossom.
Sam was very concerned on our very first dinner date at Houston’s (now Hillstones) in Santa Monica, when I had one tortilla chip (literally) with their famous Spinach Artichoke Dip—his favorite food on the planet. And then he was even more concerned when we returned six months later and he had to warn me not to cross the fifty yard line, because I was plowing through his half of the chips at lightening speed!
After any trip—the minute he was out of sight—I used to attack the snack cupboard with a vengeance, because “tomorrow” the diet would begin again. (I gained a record-breaking eight pounds in eight days on our Honeymoon!)
Our Wedding Day, February 18, 2007
Los Angeles, CA
I now never hide anything that I’ve eaten from him; in fact, when he goes to watch a movie with his dad, I actually text him pictures of the chocolates just before I consume them!
That kind of unconditional love is what makes all the difference.
I never had that growing up, and food became my best friend. Now that I have a real best friend—who loves and adores me no matter what I weigh, I don’t need to turn to the food.
My Food Network Obsession
It’s pretty amazing how much I’ve learned about cooking from watching TV! (Favs: Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Top Chef, Master Chef, Chopped)
I didn’t bake for years (my favorite thing to do) and never trusted myself to watch food shows, because I thought they would make me crave ‘bad’ foods and feel hungry. Truthfully, I do crave gourmet type foods when I watch, but I now much prefer eating smaller quantities of really good, tasty, flavorful food, than huge quantities of fat-free, taste-free, diet foods. And I feel inspired to make them myself!
How It Is Now
On easy days I don’t need to count points, and mostly don’t even think about what I ate or what I’m going to eat. (A few years ago I would never have believed that this was possible!)
Those are the easy days.
On the difficult days—the ones that sneak up on you out of the blue, just when you think you have this thing down—I need to pull some of the tools out of my belt. The BEST tool I have in my arsenal, and the best advice I can give you if you’re struggling is to go to a meeting! Find a leader that you love and inspires you. For me that is Michelle Jacob, and I used to schlep all the way from Santa Monica to go to her meetings in the San Fernando Valley. Whenever I feel like I’m slipping or just need some inspiration or encouragement, I go to her meeting in West Hills.
I understand that I have an issue that needs constant managing. I’ve made peace with the fact that it will never just disappear, but that I have to constantly work on it—sometimes it will be effortless, and sometimes it will be challenging. But it is absolutely do-able, as long as I stay positive, am kind to myself, and appreciate all that I have.
I have no regrets because all of this brought me to this point in my life which is exactly where I want to be!
I hope that I can give you some inspiration and ideas, and we can be on this sometimes crazy and challenging journey together!
Please let me know how you are doing and share your own story with me! As always, your feedback and comments mean the world to me.
One thing I know with all my heart and soul—if I can do it, SO CAN YOU!
Let me know if I can help in any way…
With love and kindness,
If you think my story will inspire others, please share it!
Just click the buttons above to share to Facebook, G+, Pinterest or Twitter!
You might also like
- Why Weight Watchers Simple Start Works >>
- Weight Watchers Power Foods—will change your life for good >>